White, male attorneys continue to make up the majority of lawyers in the U.S., according to the ABA’s Profile of the Legal Profession, an annual report on diversity in the legal profession that was released last month.
However, the number of female attorneys and those from underrepresented ethnic and racial communities is growing, especially among law students and associates.
And while Illinois ranks high when it comes to the number of attorneys who practice in the state (5th overall), lawyers are rapidly flocking to places like North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Utah, where the number of active attorneys has grown roughly 20% in the past decade.
Diversity in the legal profession: demographics
While male attorneys still greatly outnumber female attorneys, the percentage of female attorneys has grown slowly, up 5% over the last decade, according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey (ABA Survey).
In 2022, 38.3% of lawyers were female while 61.5% were male. The gains are notable, however, given that from 1950 to 1970, only 3% of all lawyers were women. And if women continue to outnumber men in law school, the upward trend may continue.
The number of openly LGBTQ attorneys at law firms continues to grow slowly, according to a survey from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP Survey). In 2021, the NALP Survey of 849 law offices across the country found that 3,653 lawyers (3.7%) identified as LGBTQ. In 2011, the survey found that just 2,087 (1.9%) of lawyers at U.S. firms identified as LGBTQ.
The percentage of law firm summer associates who report they are LGBTQ is substantially higher. According to the NALP Survey, in 2021, 8.47% of all summer associates said they were LGBTQ.
The number of lawyers who report having disabilities remains small, the NALP Survey says. The survey of 641 law offices across the country found 865 lawyers who say they have disabilities, which represents 1.22% of lawyers in those offices. The percentage of law firm partners who say they have disabilities is slightly lower, at 1.07%.
Looking at race and ethnicity
While the percentage of white lawyers has declined (81% in 2022 compared to 88.4% in 2012), they’re still overrepresented in the legal profession compared to their presence in the U.S. population (60.1%).
The percentage of lawyers of color has grown 7% over the past 10 years. Lawyers of color now make up 19% of the legal profession, according to the ABA Survey.
The percentage of Asian American and Hispanic lawyers has risen significantly, however, it is likely attributed to California, which began reporting the race and ethnicity of its lawyers in 2022.
In 2022, the ABA Survey found that 5.5% of lawyers were Asian American, compared to 2.5% in 2021, and 5.8% of lawyers were Hispanic, up one percentage point over the past year.
While Hispanic attorneys are still underrepresented in the U.S compared to their share of the general population (18.5%), the number of Asian American attorneys is now very close to their share of the U.S. population (5.9%).
The number of mixed-race lawyers is also on the rise, up to 2.7% of all lawyers, which aligns with their share of the U.S. population (2.8%).
On the other side, growth among Black and Native American communities has remained stagnant over the past decade. Black lawyers made up 4.7% of the profession in 2012 and dropped to 4.5% in 2022. In comparison, Black people represent 13.4% of the U.S. population.
One-half of 1% of all lawyers (0.5%) were Native American in 2022. This is nearly unchanged from 0.6% a decade earlier, according to the ABA Survey. The U.S. population is 1.3% Native American.
Increased diversity among law firm partners
Diversity among law firm partners has grown for the 28th consecutive year, according to the NALP Survey.
In 1993, when NALP began compiling the data, just 2.55% of all partners were lawyers of color. In 2021, that number was 10.75%. Nearly half of partners of color were Asian American (46%). Another 31% were Hispanic and 24% were Black.
The percentages are higher for associates. In 2021, 27.6% of associates were lawyers of color, up from 7.69% in 1993.
What’s being done to advance diversity?
The legal profession has long struggled to recruit and retain attorneys from underrepresented communities. Organizations like the Diversity Lab have created initiatives to boost and sustain diversity in the legal profession, and specifically in gatekeeper leadership positions.
The Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule asks that 30-50% of people who are being considered for leadership roles and activities that lead to leadership at law firms and other legal organizations be from underrepresented groups. As of 2022, more than 270 U.S. and Canadian law firms, 15 UK law firms, and 75 legal departments have adopted this policy, becoming “Mansfield Certified.”
Pipeline programs, like Just The Beginning – A Pipeline Program, seeks to define the path to a legal career for students of color and those from underrepresented communities.
The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism collaborates with Just The Beginning, Illinois’ law schools, and other legal organizations on Jumpstart, a law school preparatory program that elevates and connects students from communities that aren’t traditionally well represented in the legal profession, providing them with the curriculum prep and support they need to succeed in law school.
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